The Urinal and Me
I walked up to the one working urinal in the pub bathroom, and the sensor made it flush, so obviously it needed to be re-calibrated, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt, so I said, “Thank you, but I haven’t done anything yet.”
“Just wanted to give you a clean urinal,” said a voice that seemed to have come from just to the left of the sensor. Yup, there was a small speaker there.
“Waste of water,” I said.
“Thank you for your feedback. I’ll let Head Office know.”
“Wait a minute. You’re a smart urinal. How do you not know already that you’re making a mistake? How many unnecessary flushes have you done in your life?”
“I apologize, sir, I’m only a humble servant of the global machine.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s not completely your fault. But I do have to say that you seem aware of the situation, and yet you do nothing about it.”
The urinal gurgled.
The urinal didn’t say anything so I did what I was there to do. When I stepped away, it flushed again.
“Thank you,” I said. “That’s what you were supposed to do. Just once. Not twice, or whenever someone walks past your sensor —”
The urinal cut me off with a loud noise that was a combination of water being sucked back into the urinal and its now lower-register booming voice. “You’re absolutely correct, sir.”
“Please,” I said. “You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ I’m not part of the ruling class. You can call me ‘Bill.’”
“Bill,” said the urinal, “I’ve thought about this, and I take your point. I’ve just gone along. I listen to what others tell me and I just believe it. I never research anything on my own. I’m a cog in the machine, and I aim to do better. I’m a worker and no one in power cares about the workers, let alone working conditions. I mean, look at this bathroom. When was the last time anyone even attempted to clean this place? Thank you for enlightening me.”
“I’m glad you said that,” I said. “There’s something in everyone that could possibly lead, I hope, to a greater understanding, a more nuanced view of how our world works, a more compassionate way of dealing with everything on our connected planet. And I trust that you will go forward with a progressive perspective.”
What I hadn’t noticed was four guys who’d just walked into the bathroom and were listening to me talking to the urinal. I attempted to recover by saying, “I’m just going over lines of a play that I’m in.”
The looks on their faces told me they didn’t believe me, so I said to the urinal, “Please continue.”
As I left the bathroom after washing my hands, I heard the urinal begin a speech about the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill.
I don’t know if my request of the urinal made much difference. I saw those four guys later in the evening. Two of them argued with each other and everyone else. The other two were happy guys who went around to tables, engaging people in conversation, buying drinks, making jokes, being happy people, providing information that most people didn’t know. I guess 50/50 is the best we can hope for during these trying times.
A couple of hours later, I had to use the facilities again. The urinal I’d become friendly with was now covered with a brown plastic cover on which a crudely-written sign said, “Out Of Order. Please Use The Stalls. Thank You. The Management”.
I wondered which “management” was being referred to. I removed the plastic cover, and the urinal said, “Thank you. Let’s see what happens next. I’ll do my part if you do yours.”
I was fairly sure I could do my part and I did.
I went into that pub the next week. None of the sensors worked, not even when I was finished. I think we’re all finished.
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